Saturday, February 21, 2009

J-Pop, Smoking Crack and the Nature of von Sternberg & Dietrich's Relationship

As I was perusing the 2009 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) program guide, I noticed an advertisement for a J-Pop center in J-town. J-Pop is Japanese pop and refers to Japanese popular culture. It originally referred to Japanese pop music but now encompasses Japanese music, movies, anime, manga, fashion, etc. Viz Pictures is opening a J-Pop Center at 1746 Post St. in San Francisco. That's in the middle of J-town (Japantown).

The advertisement showed a theater and promised the latest J-pop movies. On the Viz Pictures website, they are promoting Death Note II. The highly anticipated sequel to Death Note which I saw at the 2008 SFIAAFF. The center is opening this summer. I hope it succeeds as I am always interested in Japanese films.


The closing night film at SF Indiefest was/is Deadgirl. It played twice at the Roxie on the SF closing night (Feb 19) and it plays at the Shattuck when the festival closes in Berkeley on Feb 22. The strange thing was that the closing night film played in the Little Roxie for both screenings on the 19th. Actually, just having the same film screened back-to-back on the same night is strange. I'm not sure why they did that. It's strange that the other two programs outsold the closing night film or they restricted tickets to the film.

One of the closing night programs was a short film compilation called Altered Fates. Programmer Joanne Parsont mentioned that Indiefest had more short films programmed in 2009 than any previous year. I saw some good short films that I hope to write about later.

One film showing under Altered Fates was Vroom-Vroom! directed by Tess Sweet. It was nice little comedy about a woman that gets dumped by her boyfriend, drives into the desert, has her car break down and is rescued by a woman with a tight pair of Daisy Dukes, a big Bowie knife and a horrible Puerto Rican accent. Anyway, Sweet was in the audience and fielded questions from the audience. The first thing she said by way of an introduction was that 8 years ago, she was smoking crack at 16th and Valencia (the nearest intersection from the Roxie Theater). That's a first; I've seem several film makers appear drunk during the Q&A. I think Eddie Furlong was drunk at the Jimmy and Judy screening at Indiefest a few years ago. That's the first one where a director admitted past drug use within a 100 yard radius of the theater.

Actually, Ms. Sweet was quite a character with a unusually bubbly personality for a former crackhead although I am probably stereotyping crackheads. Here is a picture of Ms. Sweet from an event called The Slutty Bankers' Ball. Her reverse sleeve tattoos were particularly striking at the Q&A as she was wearing a retro 70's print dress with short sleeves. She looks like she is on X in this photo.

Tess Sweet


Tonight I saw a Josef von Sternberg double feature at the PFA - The Devil is a Woman and Crime and Punishment

The Devil is a Woman is the last film von Sternberg made with Marlene Dietrich. There is a scene where Dietrich argues with Lionel Atwill's character. She says in successive order, are you my father? Are you my husband? Are you my lover? Atwill responds negative to the first two. His answer is less than unequivocal for the last question but Dietrich responds "You settle for so little."

I have long been under the impression that von Sternberg had a torrid sexual relationship with Dietrich that burned itself out due to its intensity or Dietrich prodigious appetites. After the film, a man two seats down from me told his friend that he thought the film relationship between Dietrich and Atwill's characters mirrored Dietrich and von Sternberg's real-life relationship. He went on to say that the sexual part of their relationship was non-existent or overexaggerated.

Certainly Dietrich is alleged to have gone through lovers (male and female) like a hot knife through butter. If von Sternberg had resisted (or been denied) her charms, it could explain their relatively long collaboration (5 years). There is a plausible theory in this hypothesis. If viewed through the prism of a sexually frustrated intimate, Dietrich's screen persona would have a masochistic bent as von Sternberg continually highlighted the sensuality he was being denied in real-life. There is always a wanton sexuality from Dietrich and dysfunctional relations between Dietrich and her leading man/men in von Sternberg's films. If sexually frustrated, the inspiration for this creativity during his Dietrich period would certainly be at the surface and easily channeled into his film directing.

BTW, I've never seen Dietrich look more beautiful than she did in The Devil is a Woman. Also, what is it with her and various nationalities of the characters she portrays? In Destry Rides Again, she plays a saloon girl named Frenchy. She Tsarina Catherine the Great in The Scarlett Empress. In The Devil is a Woman, she is a Spaniard named Concha Perez.

Marlene Dietrich in The Devil is a Woman

This photo is from a scene where Dietrich sings a clever song called "Three Sweethearts Have I" - a baker, a farmer and a gardener. Actually, they are the sons of a baker, farmer & gardener.

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